Peavey Plaza's Uncertain Future


Todd Grover, AIA


Docomomo US


Update, Advocacy
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Six years after the demolition of Peavey Plaza was halted in 2011, a redesign is underway—but there are continuing concerns about the manner in which the site may be altered, and questions about how the proposed changes meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties and Cultural Landscapes. 


A full discussion of these issues requires some background and an appreciation of the broader importance of M. Paul Friedberg’s design, as a progenitor of the “park plaza” typology. 


Designed in 1975, the sunken plaza was an extension of Minneapolis’ renowned Nicollet Mall, a companion to Orchestra Hall, and a key part of the City’s broader urban-renewal efforts to halt a corporate exodus from downtown Minneapolis.  On a broader level, it marked a major shift from traditional picturesque landscapes: “This Plaza represents the new urban plaza park form,” commended the judges of the ASLA Professional Design Competition, which honored Peavey in 1978.


A Centennial Medallion during ASLA’s 100th anniversary in 1999 further confirmed the plaza’s significance, and more recently, it was on the cover of Shaping the American Landscape, documenting 250 years of American landscape design.  In January 2013 Peavey Plaza -- not yet fifty years old -- was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The comprehension and conservation of Modern landscapes is little understood, placing these significant properties in an extremely vulnerable position. Peavey Plaza perfectly illustrates this situation: when repairs were made, the were not done sensitively, and became a detriment to the understanding and appreciation of the original design. A 2004 Landscape Architecture article, “Death of a Thousand Patches: Shoddy Maintenance Whittles Away at a Minneapolis Gem,” attempted to sound the alarm, but few outside the local landscape architecture and preservation communities rallied to the cause. 


In 2011, paralleling the renovation work at Orchestra Hall, the City looked to redesign the Plaza in an effort to correct perceived problems with the site. At the outset, the redesign process appeared to be sympathetic to the original design, suggesting rehabilitation as one appropriate strategy.  Unfortunately, the public process limited meaningful public input. In the end the City’s sole proposal ignored the historic design, and the city rejected rehabilitation as they stated it to be too costly.  Facing demolition, and after exhausting other efforts, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and The Cultural Landscape Foundation filed suit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act to protect Peavey Plaza from demolition. The strength of their argument saved the Plaza from demolition and the City of Minneapolis agreed to move forward with a project that would follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties and Cultural Landscapes.

In 2016, the City of Minneapolis completed a thorough and in-depth analysis of the conditions of Peavey Plaza. This Historic Structures Report by Miller Dunwiddie Architecture and Damon Farber Associates identified Peavey Plaza’s character-defining features and meticulously addressed the conditions and recommended repairs for historic site elements. The report also addressed universal access to the site, illustrating several options that would provide access to the multiple levels on the site. The report was intended to present a series of “indisputable facts” that would lay the groundwork for the future projects that would conform with Rehabilitation guidelines.


In early 2017, the City of Minneapolis hired Coen + Partners to develop the rehabilitation deigns for Peavey Plaza with a focus on improving the plaza while preserving its historic assets.  The initial design options were presented in a series of three meetings to a Technical Committee, a Steering Committee, and a Stakeholder group.  At each of these meetings, the stated goal of the project was repeated:  to “Rehabilitate Character Defining Features” as part of this design.

Docomomo US has had a representative at each of the three Stakeholder meetings to see and hear the proposed work for Peavey Plaza.  Over the course of these meetings there has been an increasing level of concern because of the proposed modifications to the significant features of the site, including, but not limited to: raising the lower basin to be level with the surrounding walkway; eliminating terraces where original, healthy trees would have to be removed; altering the rhythm of trees planted on the site; altering access off Nicollet Mall; and the general treatment to the entire site.  It is understood that these are difficult problems to resolve, especially the issue of providing universal access to this complex site. 

Next Steps

  • We encourage those interested in this project to visit the City of Minneapolis website to see the most recent design plans for the site, now at 30% completion. 
  • Feedback can also be sent to the City of Minneapolis and we encourage you to express your thoughts on the significance of this site and the importance in developing a project that meets the Rehabilitation Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and Cultural Landscapes. We know that a creative and inclusive solution is possible and hope for a sensitive, yet vibrant, rehabilitation of Peavey Plaza enabling future generations to experience this unique site.
  • Website for the City of Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza Project:


The next Stakeholder meeting is on June 14th, please attend if you are in the area.